The History of M'Meanmain
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Milesian Genealogy
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Andy McMenemy

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We have debated, researched, and debated some more over the years. Where does our name come from? Who were our ancestors?

I will start with a summary of the current, collective wisdom. Then, I will show some of the earlier discussions, and comments that we have gathered.

Our Name

The story of our name begins in the Kingdom of Tirconnel, or Donegal as we know it today. In 1281, a member of the powerful (ruling) O'Donnell clan, the "Lector O'Donnell" was chieftain of Fanad.

The Lector had two sons Cormac, and Menman. Cormac was later killed in battle, but nothing is known of Menman (Meanmain), other than the fact that he too had sons.


The families to which we belong are descended from Menman (Meanmain). The name first appears in about 1303 in the Annals of Ulster (see below) where Donnchadh Mac Menman and Aedh Mac Menman were recorded as killed in battle.


This account identifies them as the sons or grandsons of "the Lector O'Donnell", or "the Scholar O'Donnell".
The MacMeanmans featured in the Annals' entries were warriors - the Lector O'Donnell was described as "chieftain of Fanad," a territory in Donegal in the north of the county, and his grandsons were slain in a dynastic feud between two of the ruling O'Donnell line.  But Lector was an important church office - one mentioned constantly in the Annals - and it seems clear that the Lector O'Donnell's descendants (the MacMeanmans) found their future in the Irish church. 

They probably turned to the church because the real political power in Donegal was in the hands of their cousins, the O'Donnells, and their home territory of Fanad was soon taken over by the MacSweeneys, a gallowglass sept from Scotland, who served the O'Donnell Kings. Certainly one scholarly reference talks of "Mac Meanmans (a discarded branch of the O Domhnaill dynasty)".


The Annals were compiled by monks from the oral history that had been passed down through generations. The objective was to record the history of Ireland for future generations.

The "Lector" is a translation of "fer leigind" or "Ferleighinn".

The concept of M'Meanmains being a declining or discarded branch is because as time passed in late medieval gaelic Ireland, families that were once very closely related to the ruling chieftains became less important as each new chieftain took over

There are a large number of listings for MacMeanman in the Papal Letters.  For the most part, these men were described simply as MacMeanman. But in other instances, they were called "MacMeanman O'Donnell," or in some, simply "O'Donnell."  In others they were called "MacMeanman, alias O'Donnell."  These references run from the late 1300s to the late 1400s, and seem to confirm the information from the "History of Donegal," that the MacMeanmans were a branch of the O'Donnells of Tirconnell, the ruling race in Donegal.  One of the letters even mentions a claim of royal descent for the MacMeanman involved.

All is quiet during the 1500's. It is not until 1600's that the name appears again in official documents. In the "Fiants - Elizabeth, 1600-1601" (this is the Pardon List), pardon is granted to Neyce bane M'Manaman. It is unclear for what crime or misdemeanour the pardon was granted.

What happened to them after that date?  According to MacLysaght, in about 1600 they were named as "followers of O'Donnell" in an English document,  which would imply they were still a cohesive sept at that date and probably held a territory of some kind or at least a minor position of authority under the O'Donnells.

Darren Mac Eiteagain of University College Dublin in his"Donegal History and Society: Interdisciplinary Essays on the History of an Irish County" explains: "...the practice of 'Rome running'...was always strong in Gaelic Ireland.  Competition between such clerical families as O Firgil, O Gallchobair, Mac Congail, Mac Giolla Bhrighe and O Muirgheasain, who were allied with the ruling dynasty of Tir Chonnaill and declining families, such as Mac Maongail, and the Mac Meanmans (a discarded branch of the O Domhnaill dynasty), was so intense, that it lead to an increasing diplomatic sophistication in church circles.  Letters accusing rivals of corruption and papal replies passed to and fro between Tir Chonaill and Rome...with some clergy even making personal visits to Rome." 
It is widely thought that Mac Meanmans were driven into the bogs and mountains of the Finn Valley (Gleann Finn) during the James I reign in England. This appears to be supported by letters sent during the Ordnance Survey of 1835. One includes a list of names that were found in Glenn Finn and amongst the names is the quote:
"Mac Menamon - Mac Meanmann - all bright fellows".
No change there, then; it must be the genes !!!

The family dispersed over the years. The name became common in Co. Mayo, after Cromwell's evictions between 1654 and 1660 saw new settlers arriving from the North.

Other families settled in Scotland (there had always been a migration between the countries); some in England and other went further afield.

We now have family members in Australia, Canada, Hungary, South Africa, USA

The settlers arrived in Tonragee, Ballycroy and Achill. This area had long-standing links with the O'Donnells. Among the family names recorded as incomers was Mc Manamon

The Lector (Ferleighinn)

A book on the educated classes of Early Irish society, explains:

"Recruited from the nobility and infused with the values of that class, the literati were conscious of themselves as an intellectual elite modeled on the Levites of the Old Testament.  They categorized themselves in four kinds:

  • 'ecnae' or 'fer leigind', a scholar of Latin learning (Latin 'sapiens');
  • 'brithem', who kept the laws;
  • 'senchaid', a genealogist or historian; and
  • 'file', a poet and storyteller. 

Any of the four could be layman or cleric, but all were trained in monastic communities, and most probably remained resident there."

Background Discussions

I thought that you might like to know what we have gleaned about the McMenemy families and their roots.

Genealogical resources state that the names McMenemy, McMenamy, McMenamin and similar are derivations of the Gaelic McMeanma meaning mind or spirit. Different resources claim the family name comes from Donegal, Tyrone or Antrim.

The facts of the matter are not clear, particularly if you look at the distribution of the name today. However, our own research and discussions have concluded that the family originated in Donegal, and this seems to be well supported by historical documents.

Margo Metegrano ( is the great great granddaughter of Mary Ann McMenemy and provides us with this:

The book "Surnames of Ireland" by Edward MacLysaght (1980, Irish Academic Press) says:

Mac Menamin Mac Meanman. This name, originally of Tirconnell and still found there, is spelt MacManamon in Mayo. IF 78: Map Donegal. See Merriman and the next entry.

[next entry]
Mac Menamy Mac Meanma (meanma, high spirits). A form of MacMenamin found in Co. Tyrone. It is MacManamy in Co. Roscommon, where MacManaway is also probably a local form.

Merriman An English name. The origin of it as a synonym of a Gaelic surname is uncertain. Mac Giolla Mheidre is only a humorous semi-translation of merryman used by Brian, the poet, whose family was probably an off-shoot of the MacNamaras, but possibly O'Houlihan. The equation with MacMenamin is improbable. MIF 178. See also Marmion.

[Marmion just notes it is a synonym of Merriman.]

The notations refer to this author's three other books, Irish Families (IF), More Irish Families (MIF), and Supplement to Irish Families (SIF). I haven't seen those books, but I presume where noted there might be additional information.

Association with the Merriman name has now been generally discounted.

Ted McMenomy has been researching the background to the name, and passes on the following:

In "The Book of Ulster Surnames" Robert Bell states that the first record of the McMenamin name is in the Annals of Loch Ce, wherein two McMenamin brothers and nephews of O'Donnell -- King of Tir Conaill (later Donegal), were killed in battle. He also claims that the Scottish branch of the clan is "of Irish origin."

Aeneas Mc Menamin, from Brisbane, has provided the following insite

I have been researching my branch of the McMenamin tree for some time now and it is my understanding that we are a subclan of the O'Donnells of Ulster. Meanmain was the christian name of an O'Donnell (1302/3), who was an educated man, the adminstrator and keeper of the O'Donnell castle. His son became Mac Meanmain O'Donnell. A dispute between the royal families of the O'Donnell clan, (of which there were a number), caused Meanmainn O'Donnel's branch to lose out on the chance to become king. A position which was not hereditary but by election by the other O'Donnell sub clan chiefs. The Macmeanmain's then entered the church, as many educated did, and became priests & bishops etc over many years in Donegal. (See Papal Letters). The name Meanmain O'Donnell was still in use up to the 1600s in the Roman Catholic Church.

Eventually the O'Donnell half of the name was dropped leaving McMeanmain which became McMenamin. The other derivatives of the name McMenamin (approx 26), resulted from the names being written down by census takers and others in authority, including Immigration officers in the USA, who recorded the names phonetically. The majority of the people being illiterate. (Still 81% in the 1800s). Many of the people only spoke gaelic and the pronunciation of the name McMenamin, ending in a sound similar to y or ie and e sounding likea, caused the differences.  By the way it has since been shown that Merriman is NOT an English derivative of our name. For many years the Merriman or O'Donnell Coats of Arms have been incorrectly passed off as the McMenamins'.

John D. McLaughlin has kindly sent me a transcript (and some explanation) of the original entries in the Annals of Loch Ce.

1303 Annals of Ulster

Toirdhelbach Ua Domnaill, king of Tir-Conaill and Muircertach Mag Flannchadha and Donn O'Cathain and Donnchadh Mac Menman and Aedh Mac Menman, [i.e. two grand-son[s] of the Lector Ua Domnaill and Niall, son of Niall Ua Buighill and Mac Ughosai and his son and his brother and Adam Sandal [and] many other Foreigners and Gaidhil in addition were killed by Aedh Ua Domnaill, [namely] by his (own) brother (that is, the chief of Muinnter-Feodachain)...

Note: the material in brackets was inserted by the editor. The original says mac ind Firleiginn hUi Domnaill, which should be translated 'son of the Lector O'Donnell'.

1303 Annals of Loch Ce

Toirdhelghach, son of Domhnall Og O'Domhnaill, who was usually called "Toirdhelbhach of Conoc-in-Mhadhma," i.e. the king of Tir-Conaill during twelve years, both in it and out of it - a warlike, active man, and the Cuchullainno f the Clann-Dalaigh in valour - was slain by Aedh, the son of Domhnall Og, i.e. his own brother, after a long war, and after much destruction had been committed on all sides throughout the country, and a prodigious slaughter along with him of the Cenel-Eoghain, and the chhiefs of the Foreigners of the North, and of the Cenel-Conaill themselves likewise, and Muirchertach Mac Fhlannchaidh, chieftain of Dartraighe. Donn O'Cathain, king of FearaCraibhe and Cianachta, was slain there, and Donnchadh Mac Menmain and Aedh Mac Menmain - the two grandsons of the Ferleighinn O'Domhnaill; and Niall, son of Niall O'Baighill, the good material of a chieftain of the Three-Tuatha; Mac Ughossa and his son, and his brother, and Adam Sandal, and numerous Foreigners and Gaeidhel besides. And Aedh O'Domhnaill resumed his own sovereignty after this great triumph, so that after a while his government was like a sea growing calm, a tide ebbing, and a high wind subsiding.

Footnote: The Ferleighinn; lit. "the Lector."
This version makes the 'grandsons' of the same Lector O'Donnell.

1303 Annals of Clonmacnoise

Terlaugh o'Donell, prince of Tyreconell, was killed by his own brother Hugh o'Donell with these ensuing men, vidzt. Mortagh Maglaghlen, Donell o'Cahan, Donogh m'Meannman, Hugh m'Meannman, sone of fferlegin o'Donell, Neale m'Donell o'Boyle, o'Heossye and his sone and his brother Addam, Adam Cendall, with many other English and Irishmen...

1303 Annals of Connacht

Toirrdelbach O Domnaill, king of Tir Conaill, was killed by Aedh his hrother, together with many others, such as Muirchertach Mag Lochlainn, Donnchadh O Cathain,Donnchad Mac Menman son of the 'Scholar' O Domnaill, Niall son of Niall O Baigill, Mac Ugosa and his son and his brother, Adam Cendal and many other Gaels and Galls who fell with them..

Donnchadh Mac Menman son of the Lector O'Domnaill....

1281 Annals of Ulster

The battle of Disert-da-crich was fought between Cenel-Conaill and Cenel-Eoghain, where fell Domnall Ua Domnaill (by Aedh Ua Neill the Tawny and by Mac Martain); namely, the man to whom were subject Fir-Manach and Ulidia, save a litle and all Fir-Breifne. The one Gaidehl that was best of hospitality and principality; the guarantor of the West of Europe. And he was buried in the Monastery of the Friars in Doire of St. Colum-cille after gaining victory of every goodness. And these were the best that were killed there: namely, Maelruaniagh O'Baighill, chief of 'the Three Territories' and Eogan, son of MailSechlainn Ua Domnaill and Cellach Ua Baighill,  the one chief of his own time that was best of hospitality and bestowal and Gilla Mac Flannchadha, chief of Dartraighi and Domnall Mac Gille-Fhinnen, chief of Muinnter-Peodachain and Aindiles O'Baighill and Dubhghall, his son and Enna Ua Gairmleaghaidh, royal chief of the Cenel-Moein and Cormac, son of the Lector Ua Domnaill, chief of Fanat and Gilla-in-Choimdegh O'Maeladuin, king of Lurg and Carmac, son of Carmac Ua Domnaill and Gilla-na-noc Mac Calredocai and Mael-Sechlainn, son of Niall Ua Baighill and Aindiles, son of Muircertach Ua Domnaill and Maghnus Mac Cuinn and Gilla-na-naem  O'Eochagain and Muircertach Ua Flaithbertaich and Muircertach Mac-in-Ulltaigh and Flaithbertach Mag Buidhechain and many other persons of the sons of kings and chiefs and of men-at-arms that are not reckoned here.

John goes on to explain:

"It's difficult to tell from the wording of these entries, but it appears as though Menman is being described as the son of the Lector O'Domhnaill; and his two sons, Donnchadh (Donogh) and Aedh (Hugh) Mac Menmain were the grandsons of this Lector. It should be possible, by some means, to determine who this Lector O'Domhnaill was; perhaps someone at the Clan O'Donnell would have some idea of who this could be.

At first I thought perhaps these Mac Menmans were the grandsons of the Lector O'Domhnail through the female line; but on consideration I don't think this is possible. The entries in the Annals nearly always describe men in terms of their fathers and grandfathers. If the entry says they were grandsons of the Lector O'Domhnaill, then it probably means in the direct male line.

These are the only two men in the Annals with the surname Mac Menman. None before and none after 1303. 

It's difficult to draw any conclusions based on the other names in the entries, which describe a battle between Torlogh O'Donnell and his brother, Aedh, for the chieftainship of Tirconnell.

Donn O'Cahan was of course a Cenel Eoghain chieftain of county Derry; Mortagh Maglaghlen was a Donegal MacLochlainn from near Derry or the Inishowen Peninsula; Neal O'Boyle was a branch of the Cenel Conaill from Donegal; and O'Heossye was a chieftain in Fermanagh.
We might note here that all these names (with the possible exception of O'Hussey) were important chieftains of the Cenel Conaill and the Cenel Eoghainn. For the Mac Menmans to have been thought worthy of being mentioned in this company, their descent must have been equally royal. Therefore it's quite likely they were a branch of the Cenel Conaill in descent from an O'Domhnall.


(Again my thanks to John D McLaughlin for this information)

Mary McMenamin Hirsch has a paper "The McMenamin Surname" researched and written by Joseph P McMenamin. You can access this paper and various other interesting documents by following this link to her website.

Kevin McManaman has also included a history of the family name in his website, interwoven with a history of Ireland.